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What scene comes to mind when you think about making a legal claim for money owed? If you’re imagining stern men in wigs talking loudly and verbosely in a creaking wooden chamber, then you’re perfectly normal.
You’re completely wrong, though: this classical image of a court endures in the public consciousness precisely because of its intimidating nature.
Indeed, it’s an absolute gift for film makers and novelists, who like to build tension. However, it means very little to real people seeking redress in the modern world.
In fact, even the presence of a Judge is unlikely, as you’ll discover when we explore what really happens when you make a legal claim for money owed.
So what really happens, then?
Once you’ve made all reasonable attempts to secure payment, it’s time for your solicitor to send your ‘Letter Before Action’, or LBA. The purpose of the LBA is to give the debtor official notice that legal proceedings are imminent. In some cases the LBA acts to jolt the debtor into paying; therefore extinguishing the need for legal action. If this doesn’t happen, the following four stages will apply:
Stage 1: Gathering essential information
Top of any debt recovery solicitor’s list is compiling all the information necessary to issue a legal claim. This includes basic contact details such as your name and address, along with the debtor’s details. Your solicitor will also put together a document known as ‘Particulars of Claim’, or PoC. This is a brief summary of what is owed, why it is owed and details of any additional interest, compensation or costs that should be added to the debt.
Stage 2: sending your claim
When your solicitor has collected all essential information, he or she will send it to the County Court Bulk Centre (CCBC). This is a completely electronic process that is available to selected debt recovery solicitors and other high-volume court users. Please note: the system is not available to individual claimants, so you can’t do it yourself. The CCBC system will then check to ensure against missing information and basic errors.
Stage 3: Logging your claim
Claim data is then entered into the Court Service computer system, known as CaseMan. At this point the case is allocated a claim number, which is a unique reference that identifies the case. Finally, a claim form, known as an N1, is printed and posted to the debtor. Importantly, up until now the claim process has been fully automated. As a result, no human, other than your solicitor, has set eyes on the particulars.
Stage 4: Wait and see
If the debtor doesn’t respond to the N1 claim form within 14 days, then an electronic request for Judgment can be made in the case. This is known as ‘Default Judgment’, and will be entered irrespective of the merits, or otherwise, of your case. At this point enforcement action to recover the debt may begin.
What if the claim is defended by the debtor?
Of course, the debtor will have the opportunity to defend your claim if he or she wishes. This carries with it the chance that the case will go before a court for trial. However, on average only 16% of cases are defended, with only 3% ever reaching trial. That gives you a very good chance of achieving success without even having to set foot in a court room.
In the unlikely event that your case does go to trial, you will find the court to be a very different place to the one you might have imagined. That’s because today’s courts are convened in modern office buildings and are presided over by Judges who speak in plain English rather than legalese. Any Judge will listen carefully to both sides before making and explaining a Judgment based on evidence and the law.
As you can see, making a legal claim is actually quite a mundane process that is designed to give you maximum redress with minimum stress. This means you have every reason to feel comfortable and confident in pursuing what you’re owed.